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Student authors new Finnish textbook for Arabic speakers

A 20-year-old student has written a book for Arabic-speaking Finnish-language learners that the author says helps bridge cultural differences.

Nainen kirja kädessään
Merim Al-Kharsani's strategies for learning Finnish draw on personal experience. Image: Maria Nykänen / Yle

This weekend Merim Al-Kharsani unveiled her textbook for Arabic speakers learning Finnish, Opi suomea Merimin kanssa (“Learn Finnish with Merim”), at Hervanta Library in Tampere.

Al-Kharsani, who is studying to become a Finnish teacher, said the popularity of her Finnish tutorials on social media inspired her to write the book, which is mainly intended for Arabic-speaking kids.

“Children and adults alike need motivation in the first place, lots of grammar comes second,” explained Al-Kharsani, who said there’s been a void when it comes to Finnish-as-a-second-language textbooks catering to an Arabic audience.

In Finland, Finnish is sometimes taught solely in Finnish, but Al-Kharsani has a different perspective.

“You can’t just rely on Finnish when teaching it to an Arabic speaker. A textbook has to draw on both languages,” she explained. “It makes it easier to understand nuances and clarify word meanings.”

As an example, Kharsani said it’s unrealistic to expect someone arriving from her other home country of Iraq to understand Finnish proverbs relating to Finnish nature.

Al-Kharsani told Yle that being bilingual in Finnish and Arabic helped her bridge some culturally rooted differences between the two languages in Opi suomea Merimin kanssa. That said, the book draws on Al-Kharsani’s own experiences, though it was edited by a teacher of Finnish language and literature.

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